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J Anat. 2014 Dec;225(6):569-82. doi: 10.1111/joa.12245. Epub 2014 Nov 24.

Comparative architectural properties of limb muscles in Crocodylidae and Alligatoridae and their relevance to divergent use of asymmetrical gaits in extant Crocodylia.

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Structure & Motion Lab, Department of Comparative Biomedical Sciences, The Royal Veterinary College, Hatfield, UK.

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Crocodiles and their kin (Crocodylidae) use asymmetrical (bounding and galloping) gaits when moving rapidly. Despite being morphologically and ecologically similar, it seems alligators and their kin (Alligatoridae) do not. To investigate a possible anatomical basis for this apparent major difference in locomotor capabilities, we measured relative masses and internal architecture (fascicle lengths and physiological cross-sectional areas) of muscles of the pectoral and pelvic limbs of 40 individuals from six representative species of Crocodylidae and Alligatoridae. We found that, relative to body mass, Crocodylidae have significantly longer muscle fascicles (increased working range), particularly in the pectoral limb, and generally smaller muscle physiological cross-sectional areas (decreased force-exerting capability) than Alligatoridae. We therefore hypothesise that the ability of some crocodylians to use asymmetrical gaits may be limited more by the ability to make large, rapid limb motions (especially in the pectoral limb) than the ability to exert large limb forces. Furthermore, analysis of scaling patterns in muscle properties shows that limb anatomy in the two clades becomes more divergent during ontogeny. Limb muscle masses, fascicle lengths and physiological cross-sectional areas scale with significantly larger coefficients in Crocodylidae than Alligatoridae. This combination of factors suggests that inter-clade disparity in maximal limb power is highest in adult animals. Therefore, despite their apparent morphological similarities, both mean values and scaling patterns suggest that considerable diversity exists in the locomotor apparatus of extant Crocodylia.


archosauria; biomechanics; locomotion; myology; ontogeny; scaling

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